Lizard Head Pass to Telluride, Colorado
We wake in the morning to a cold wet tent and the business of rolling up and lashing it to a bike. We eat bananas and peanut butter with feet still in sleeping bags. The mood is tense. We have no idea where Matty had slept and more importantly Johnny, as he has a $27.00 tent that has no fly. Just as the last bag was snapped up, we see Matty cruise past and over the summit. We are relieved. We descend the summit and move on towards our warmshowers contact in Telluride. We had a feeling it might be a sweet deal, but we were exceptionally unprepared for what we were about to see.
I must say, it is painful to realize, we were only 8 miles away from Don's house when we slept at the pass. It's like sitting in snow all night, deciding not to press on to look for your friend and realizing in the morning he was three feet away, blanketed by the dark. But the dark had lifted. And so had our spirits. We are officially in the Rockies now and there are a spectacular thing to see. We followed our simple directions. AT SKI AREA SIGN TURN RIGHT. FIRST HOUSE ON RIGHT. Okey Doke. We're expecting to come upon a farm house with dogs, possibly some kids playing in the yard.
We make the turn into a golf course. There are elk and deer walking through the fairway. Sprinklers are on full blast. Local cops sit in their cars lazily patrolling the area. There is sunshine and incredible homes perched on every hill. Chris and I are choking with laughter. We are behaving like children. We are weaving into the road, ogling the neighborhood. We turn into the driveway of the Kramer home; a massive log cabin with monster sized rocking chairs on the front porch, three car garage and an iron sign that reads BIG ELK LODGE. (We later find that everything in the house is labeled in a similar fashion. Mugs, t-shirts, hats, fleeces, etc.) Matty is there, in one of those over sized rocking chairs and he whispers that he thinks that everyone in the house is asleep. We chat for a few minutes and the front door opens. It's Don. He's wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. He invites us in for breakfast and coffee.
The house is like nothing I have ever seen in my life. There are several chandeliers made entirely from antlers. There are more heads of dead animals than I can name eye balling me from the walls of the foyer. Oriental rugs line the hard wood floors. Six bedrooms, nine bathrooms. Every time I enter a new room, I look to Chris and stamp my foot in disbelief. Don makes us coffee. The Kramers are hosting several other guests and they slowly creep up to the first floor. A breakfast is laid out on one of the three or four back decks; french toast, Greek yogurt, fresh berries and orange juice. We have a lively conversation over breakfast and just as we are finishing up. Don says, "Where is your friend?" As though Johnny had been waiting for the exact moment for someone to utter this sentence, he comes sailing in a blaze of white through the curvy mountain road. All ten of us shout to him from the deck. We are glad to have everyone in the same place.
In short order, everyone is packed into large SUVs and shuttled down to the world famous Telluride Fourth of July Parade. Ok, maybe not world famous, but certainly a spectacle. Don's wife, Ilene is warm is the day is long and so fun to chat with. They hand me their digital camera and encourage me to take pictures all day. The parade is a hoot. Complete with a float whose theme is, "The World Didn't End". One of the riders has a sign that reads, "LEAVE THE POT ROAST IN ONE MORE HOUR".
After enjoying Tom Cruise's fighter Jet show, we went on to lunch for pizza and locally brewed beer. Telluride is a dream. A rich hippy ski town that is all a bustle for the holiday weekend. A million shops that are the inside of my brain. Hiking shoes, wool socks, tea shops, homeopathic stores, entire rooms filled with sacks of lavender. Explode.
We return home to catch up on life for a bit. After showering and putting on our best clothes, which are still the worst clothes to wear to cocktail hour, we arrived on the scene. A hodgepodge of friends, some business, some met on random hiking trips, all incredibly entertaining and kind individuals. I am having a bit of an out of body experience as I am holding a glass of chardonnay and chatting with a man who shares my grandfather's name. We are discussing his trip to Tanzania. He is explaining to me the glory of seeing a herd of elephants. Less than 24 hours ago I was cold to the point of paralyzation, dressed in a torn up wool sweater and muddy pants eating chili out of can with a head lamp on. There is incongruity here that is truly jarring.
We have a magnificent and very healthy dinner, which I am sure makes Matty happy as he is our resident nutritionist. However, Don encourages us to eat anything we want in this house. He says, "I tell all my patients, if it tastes good, it's good for you. Of course, all my patients are fat, but they love me."
We pack into the cars once more to head out for the fireworks. But not before Don suits us head to toe in all the fleece they have in the house. The fireworks are the best we have ever seen. Every time a firework explodes it illuminates the snow capped mountains and waterfall in the distance. It is a fairy tale.
When we return to the house, Matty goads Don and Ilene into sharing the story of how they met, the punch line of which is, "Blind dates are always bald guys". The half hour story that followed is enough material to flesh out a plot for at least three Woody Allen films. We were spellbound.
Alright, I'm going to tell you how the night ended, but you have to promise me that you won't be mad. Because after several hard weeks of camping, I think I'm allowed a touch of luxury, ok? Ok, good. I had a steam bath in a giant marble bathroom, wrapped myself in a freshly laundered white robe and Don equipped me with an oxygen tank to sleep with to acclimatize to the altitude. Then I tucked myself into my queen sized bed with fresh sheets and slept like a baby.
Let me say one more thing before I finish my gloat of a post. Ilene and Don are obviously people of means. Elk Lodge is their summer home. They have other homes in New York and Houston. But they don't wrap themselves up in opulent decor, designer jeans or big fat jewelry. It seems that their interest lies in people; entertaining guests and even people they meet casually on a hike through Telluride. When we came to their home on the mountain, we were strangers to them. They had no reason to trust us or to provide us with any kind of sanctuary. But they did.
When I asked their daughter, Rafaela, why her father signed up for this cycling network, she explained that despite the fact that he wasn't much into cycling, he loved to meet new people and he wanted to provide people with a place to retreat to during a "time of great vulnerability".
When I was at my lowest point, gripping the night in despair, wondering if I would find my friends, if we could even get through the night, I never could have envisioned myself in the warmth of the Kramer Family home. But here I am, in a time of great vulnerability, forever grateful.